Judge finds error in project approval

STATE DIGEST

May 09, 2006

Opponents of a proposed 4,300-home community near Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany County say they are heartened by a judge's ruling that sent the project back to the county Board of Zoning Appeals for reconsideration.

In a decision issued late last week, Allegany Circuit Judge Gary G. Leasure found that the appeals board erred in declaring the Terrapin Run project "in harmony with" the county's comprehensive plan, said William C. Wantz, a lawyer for opponents of the development.

The judge ruled that the three-member board should have weighed whether the project was "consistent with" the county master plan, a more rigorous standard, the opponents' lawyer said.

Wantz had filed an appeal with the court on behalf of more than 50 county residents, objecting to the board's Aug. 30 decision to grant a special exception to zoning laws limiting development of the 1,000-acre site on U.S. 40.

If built, the proposed community, named for a nearby stream, would become Allegany's second-largest after Cumberland. It would also mark a major leap westward of residential growth from the Baltimore-Washington region.

The board had voted 2 to 1 in favor of Terrapin Run's developer, Columbia-based PDC Inc., after 30 hours of testimony over eight nights last summer.

"For sure, the momentum has shifted," Tom Mathews, a spokesman for Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County, said yesterday. "We're just ecstatic that the judge has ruled in our favor."

The opponents' lawyer was more guarded, calling the ruling "a first step. It remains to be seen what the board of appeals will do with it on remand."

Craig Leonard, development director for Terrapin Run, said he and other proponents are not concerned by the snag.

"The Board of Zoning Appeals conducted a very professional and thorough review of our application last summer, and we are very comfortable going back to them," Leonard said.

Timothy B. Wheeler

Maryland

Power plant to cut pollution

The Mirant power company will have to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution from its plant in Alexandria, Va., year-round rather than just in summer under an amended agreement with federal and state authorities released yesterday.

The consent agreement, first filed in federal court in September 2004, still requires an almost two-thirds reduction in nitrogen oxide air pollution from plants in Alexandria and three Maryland counties - Prince George's, Charles and Montgomery, said the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nitrogen oxide is an ingredient in smog and helps cause low-oxygen "dead zones" in the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways.

The reductions at the Maryland plants are similar to what Mirant is required to do under the Healthy Air Act, passed by the legislature this year and signed into law by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But the consent agreement speeds up the reductions at Mirant's Morgantown plant in Charles County by about two years by requiring the installation of control equipment by May 1 next year, said Julie Oberg, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Virginia initiated legal action against Mirant after the company's Potomac River plant in Alexandria violated its nitrogen oxide limits by more than 100 percent in the summer of 2003.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment joined with Virginia in negotiating the proposed settlement in September 2004 that required the nitrogen oxide reductions and Mirant to pay a $500,000 penalty to Virginia and the U.S.

That agreement - which must be approved by the courts - has been amended over the past 19 months to include year-round limits on nitrogen oxide pollution, instead of just summertime limits, said Cynthia Magnuson, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice.

Mirant's spokesman did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Tom Pelton

Montgomery

Podiatrist to pay $326,570 in fines

A Montgomery County podiatrist has agreed to stop participating in federal health insurance programs for 10 years after he filed false claims to Medicare, prosecutors announced yesterday.

Stuart Aiken, 51, a podiatrist practicing in Olney, also agreed in a civil settlement with the U.S. attorney's office to pay the government $326,570 in fines. He did not return a telephone message left at his office yesterday.

"Medical professionals who file false claims for federal health benefits must be held accountable for their fraudulent conduct," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.

An investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services found that the federal government was defrauded by the false billing information from January 2000 until April 2004, according to the settlement reached Friday.

Medicare was billed for treatment of abscesses though such services were not performed, the agreement said. Investigators said progress notes in a patient's chart were fabricated, and that false diagnosis codes were entered for patients to be eligible for Medicare payments not earned.

An official with the Maryland Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners said yesterday that Aiken is considered to be in good standing with the board.

Matthew Dolan

Patuxent Center

Whooping cranes hatch in Md.

Whooping crane eggs taken from a nest at a Wisconsin wildlife refuge have hatched in Maryland.

Larry Wargowsky, manager of the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, said the eggs were taken Thursday to the Patuxent National Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, where one of them hatched Friday and the other Sunday.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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